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Secrets and Codes Revealed at Leeds Limmud

David Fligg (PtJA’s Project Consultant) represented the project team at the Leeds Limmud Conference, which took place at Weetwood Hall on 29 October.

David debating with some of the Limmud delegates.

‘Music from the Holocaust: Spiritual Resistance, Secrets, Codes and Messages Revealed’ was the title of David’s presentation. He discussed music written under German occupation and imprisonment by Czech Jewish composers within the context of other examples of deliberately-hidden testimonies and evidence during the Holocaust, including Emanuel Ringelblum’s Oyneg Shabbes archive from the Warsaw Ghetto, and what have become known as the Scrolls of Auschwitz.

Leeds Limmud is now one of the major regional Limmud conferences in the UK, with this year’s attracting more than 300 delegates, and five parallel sessions containing 56 lectures and workshops. Since the start of the PtJA project, team members have contributed to various Limmud events both in the UK and abroad. “The fact that our sessions seem to attract sizable audiences, demonstrates that there’s a thirst for investigating and engaging with our innovative research,” says David.

 

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Newsletter Special Issue (October 2017)

Our latest newsletter is now out. To read it click here

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Down, Under, and Out of the Shadows

August 5-14, 2017

The fourth Out of the Shadows festival took place in Sydney in early August, the second week of second semester. Over three hundred musicians, actors and academics came together to present research work from Performing the Jewish Archive. Two exciting local cross-faculty collaborations involved Associate Professor Ian Maxwell (Department of Theatre and Performance Studies, SLAM) and Dr Avril Alba (Department of Hebrew, Biblical and Jewish Studies, SLC). Ian directed one of the cabarets in the festival, Prince Bettliegend, while Avril was co-convenor for an international symposium held at the Sydney Jewish Museum, Performance, Empathy, Trauma and the Archive.

Performance of Bertold Brecht’s and Kurt Weil’s ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ at the Vebrugghen Hall. © 2017 University of Sydney. Photograph by David Goldman.

Performances were exceptionally well attended, with over 2,100 people viewing 15 events, including four free concert presentations and two free guest lectures by exceptional international academics.  Local composers from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music were commissioned and represented throughout: arrangements for chamber orchestra (Aidan Rosa and Ian Whitney), settings of poetry by Nelly Sachs for large choir (Katrina Kovacs and Victoria Pham), and original compositions based on Jewish refugee material with which the composers themselves were working (Daniel Biederman and Solomon Frank).

 

Geoff Sirmai and Doron Chester in the ‘Merchants of Helsinki’. © 2017 University of Sydney. Photograph by David Goldman.

Programs represented Jewish artists who had sought refuge in Australia. A significant range of compositional styles were represented through the works of Werner Baer, Boas Bischofswerder, George Dreyfus, Marcel Lorber, George Pikler, Georg Tintner, and Walter Wurzburger. The Festival was especially pleased to perform George Dreyfus’s Trio in the presence of the composer. We also heard personal reminiscences from the pianist Rachel Valler OAM, and the contralto Lauris Elms AM OBE, both of whom had working relationships with Jewish refugee composers. 

Katia Molino and Yana Taylor ‘in Prince Bettliegend’. © 2017 University of Sydney. Photograph by David Goldman.

The quality of performance across the festival was extraordinary.  Rave reviews were given for the opening night orchestral and dance event (conducted by Roger Benedict) and the exceptional Prince Bettliegend. Audiences were particularly appreciative of the local talents of Geoff Sirmai and Joanna Weinberg in The Merchants of Helsinki. Cabarets were musically directed by Dr Kevin Hunt and an ensemble from the Sydney Conservatorium Jazz Unit, with expert guidance in scripting and music from Simo Muir (Merchants of Helsinki) and dramaturgy from Lisa Peschel (Prince Bettliegend).

Two brilliant international guests gave keynote speeches as part of the festival, addressing the place of cultural expression in the lives of Jewish refugees.  Dr Anna Shternshis’s talk, sponsored by the School of Languages and Cultures (SLC) and the Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences (FASS), discussed songs created by Yiddish speaking Jews in the Ukraine during World War II, only rediscovered in the late 1990s.  Dr Brigid Cohen’s talk, sponsored by the Sydney Conservatorium’s Alfred Hook Lecture Series, explored the repertories created by refugee Jewish artists in flight or in the camps, bringing them into dialogue with crucial philosophers of the period (especially Hannah Arendt) who were addressing questions of responsibility, reality, facticity and truth-telling in the wake of the Holocaust.  The two international guests moderated sessions for a special symposium, Performance, Empathy, Trauma and the Archive, held at the Sydney Jewish Museum in the final two days of the festival.  Over twenty participants explored questions such as the role of historical authenticity in creative production, especially pertinent given the long-standing debates about the limits of representation that surround artwork associated with the Holocaust. They also addressed whether and how the contemporary emphasis on empathy as a desired outcome of engagement with difficult histories and artworks might itself be ethically problematic. Their contributions engendered far-reaching and stimulating discussions and are currently being prepared for publication.

By Dr Joseph Toltz

Research Fellow, Sydney Conservatorium of Music, The University of Sydney

Curator, Out of the Shadows: rediscovering Jewish Music and Theatre (Sydney, August 2017)

Co-Convenor, Performance, Empathy, Trauma and the Archive, 13-14 August, 2017

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Newsletter Issue 9

Our latest newsletter is now out. To read it click here

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Come to Sydney! It’s only 22 hours away!

By Joseph Toltz

Excitement is building as all the elements come together for the fourth “Out of the Shadows” festival, to be held in Sydney from 5-13 August 2017.  The festival begins with a gala opening night, featuring dance works written by Jewish artists in exile.  Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s last collaboration, The Seven Deadly Sins, will be directed by Chryssy Tintner, daughter of the refugee composer and conductor, Georg Tintner. Georg’s composition “Trauermusik”, composed in 1939 and rearranged for full orchestra in the 1950s, will be performed, along with dance works commissioned by the Bodenwieser Ballet, who found safe haven in Australia during the war years.  In fact, the Bodenwieser Ballet danced on the very same stage that many of our artists will tread, during the week.  Two new chamber orchestra arrangements by Sydney Conservatorium composition students Aidan Rosa and Ian Whitney will transform this music, while Benjamin Hancock, a great solo dancer from Melbourne, is choreographing a solo dance piece to accompany Simon Parmet’s 1934 Dybbuk incidental music, found by Simo Muir during his research in Helsinki.

Red-Riding-Hood has proven to be a joyful experience. In the first week of July, thirty younger choristers from the Sydney Children’s Choir transformed into enthusiastic bunnies, woodsmen and fairies, with the eponymous Red and Wolf rounding out the cast. We danced, sang, moved around and had a great deal of fun, with superb choral leadership from Atalya Masi, brilliant direction from Christopher Harley, outstanding piano work from Owen Elsley and terrific choreography from Ana Maria Belo.  We cannot wait to hear the SSO Fellows add their special magic.

Two composition students have been testing their works in sound-checks for the Festival.  Daniel Biederman’s The Last Renaissance Man tells the story of Dr Solomon Bard, a Jewish musician who found himself imprisoned in a Japanese POW camp during the war.  Biederman has commissioned an oil-drum cello for the occasion, and Nils Hobiger has been testing out the unusual sound.  Solomon Frank’s work Peripherals utilises manipulated recorded sound of the instruments performed by his grandparents, and his great-uncle, a refugee Polish-Jewish violinist in Central Asia during the war, and a member of the SSO for many years.

Lisa Peschel and Ian Maxwell (Theatre & Performance Studies, University of Sydney) have begun shaping the narrative arc of Prince Bettliegend. A stellar cast of repertory actors are appearing in this, with brilliant arrangements from Kevin Hunt (Jazz Studies), who is leading a 7-piece student band for this, and for The Merchants of Helsinki.  This cabaret, researched by Simo Muir, has been transformed for Sydney audiences by Joanna Weinberg and Geoff Sirmai, two of the most beloved Jewish entertainers in town. They’ve brought in two exceptional young talents: Dani Mirels and Doron Chester.  It’s going to be a side-splitting evening!

Choral work is continuing apace with VOX and Luminescence working hard on gems from the Jewish liturgical repertoire, discovered by Steve Muir.  I spent a couple of hours yesterday with Sefa Laga’aia, a brilliant 18-year old tenor who will be singing the cantorial solos for VOX.  It was great to discuss stylistic delivery of this material with him, and I can’t wait to hear him and the whole ensemble.  Meanwhile, one of Australia’s finest organists, David Drury, is preparing for his first rehearsal on the Verbrugghen organ, as he explores the repertoire of the Wurzburger family – Walter, transported as an ‘enemy alien’ to Australia in 1940, and his father Siegfried, a renowned organist, who died tragically in the Lodz Ghetto in 1942 after deportation from his native Frankfurt.  Bringing Wurzburger repertoire back to Australia is particularly meaningful for me, and the family are looking forward to seeing the performances.

There is so much more to tell about the activities on the ground, but we will have to wait for another newsletter to reflect on the highs of the performances.  The Sydney Festival could not function without the tireless, generous and enthusiastic work undertaken by my Festival Manager, Jain Moralee.  She goes above and beyond.  So a special thanks to her, and to all the team around the world for making this a truly spectacular event.

 

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A life-changing experience: an interview with University of York student Kayleigh McCallion

Kayleigh (on the left) as Sarah and Millie Jessup as Hannah Kleiderman in ‘A Comedy of Us Jews’.

You have recently been involved in a production of Comedy of us Jews.  Tell us a bit about the play and what your role has been in it

I became aware of the play late last year when a small group of us, including Simo Muir and Lisa Peschel met to update the grammar and some of the Yiddish so it was playable for a modern day audience. The play is a half an hour cabaret style piece, set in a 1940s clothes shop in Helsinki. For the most part, while dealing with the trifles of money and monogamy in a dysfunctional marriage, it comments on the terrible set up of the rationing system in limiting trade, in the context of needing money for Sabbath. To start with I was cast as a female non-Jewish customer, but by the time rehearsals started I had managed to acquire a male customer, a female customer, a porter, a family friend and a sexton! Playing so many roles in a half an hour piece gave me a slightly more rounded understanding of the unique situation for Jews in Helsinki during the war. While all of my characters were comic, my purpose on stage in every role was to financially threaten the trader (Joseph Kleiderman), either by taking money for a French mannequin as a porter, or getting his hopes up for an affluent purchase, but not having the ration punches to close the deal.  

This hasn’t been your first show with Performing the Jewish Archive.  How did you first become involved in the project and what other productions have you taken part in?     

Lisa Peschel is a lecturer at the Department of Theatre, Film and Television, University of York, and taught my scriptwriting module in my first year. It was during a seminar that Lisa shamelessly plugged auditions for the show ‘Harlequin in the Ghetto’ based on a script by Zdeněk Jelínek. In my first year I had next to no confidence at all when it came to auditioning, so I very nearly didn’t show, but my goodness I am so glad I did. It was at this day-long workshop style audition with Lisa, and director Mark France, also from the university, that we learned of the project, Lisa’s research into the Terezín Ghetto. We were able to work with some fragmented Czech scripts by Jelínek in a short devising process to speculate what material had been left in its birth place.

I was cast as the communist agitator Rarach in ‘Harlequin in the Ghetto’ much to my absolute shock, and from there the whole process began. The first week was for research; reading and discussing an abundance of survivor testimony, the communist manifesto, art, theatre from a similar time elsewhere in Europe, and writing melodies to the songs in the scripts. Also, our co-director Alan Sykes gave us an in depth walk through Marxism as a system, and not as a philosophy which was largely what the agitprop piece was all about.

Kayleigh in ‘Harlequin in the Ghetto’.

In week 2/4 we were told that we were to devise the piece we had been working on already, but also perform the Jelínek’s original text alongside it called ‘A Comedy about a Trap’. Let me tell you, learning a commedia dell’arte piece of communist agitprop whilst devising a piece of verbatim theatre to explain how it came about was no easy job, but it has changed my political outlook so much so, that I’m ashamed of my old views. The show was an enormous success, and hosted talk backs with the audience gave us a change to reflect on the process with a community unlike any other I have worked with. Unlike commercial theatre, this project really does make you feel as though your audience are routing for you and in turn the performers have the utmost respect for the artists and their communities.

During this show, another audition came up for Jac Weinstein’s ‘Mother Rachel and Her Children’ with Mark France. By this time I had PtJA fever and so much confidence than I’d ever had, so I went for it. Although this time I did not get the role straight away it was a great experience, as Mark’s style is one of energy and exploration. Mark asked me to fill the role of Mother Rachel and so the story continues! Rachel was representation of the mother of the Jews as well as a physical mother of a child with whom I was on stage with, as they enter a concentration camp.

Rehearsals of ‘Mother Rachel and Her Children’.

‘Mother Rachel’ was a far cry from ‘Harlequin in the Ghetto’, as (originally in Yiddish) its style was relentlessly heavy ballad style poetry, taking the audience through the movement of the Jews from the Land of Israel up until World War Two. It was neither comic nor easy to play, however it was eye opening in many ways. On the one hand it put into context some Zionist attitudes toward settlement in the homeland, and made me sympathise like never before with the struggle through pogroms and exile, centuries prior to the Holocaust. On the other hand, it highlighted how the Jewish community are not one to be thought of as victims, but as people of incredible spirit and dedication, who throughout the ages of abuse, hold the love of family and tradition at the very core of their existence.

One more point and I’ll move on I promise… we worked with two choirs which sang intermittently with the acting, whilst projections of artwork depicting the movement of the Jews played behind the action. The synagogue choir were breath-taking. They appeared to capture the sound of the ‘Eastern desert’ and deliver it in a church in Leeds — I can do them no justice with my examinations. Alongside them where the Chamber Choir from Leeds University Union Music Society. The contrast between the cultures was apparent, but more so, beautiful that they sang side by side in perfect respect for one another in the service of the piece.

Tell us what you have learnt from being involved in the project?  For example, what did you know about the playwrights, the plays, the historical context in which they were written etc. before taking part?   

I only knew what we were taught in schools about Jewish history. The playwrights and inner working of Jewish ghettos were a mystery to me beyond what AQA publish in their textbooks before now. In British history, a huge chapter is missing. Yes of course we are taught that Jews were forced into ghettos in the war period, but what happened in them nobody knows! Anomalies to the trend also, such as Terezín, where an active cultural life sprang up are certainly not spoken about. Since being involved with the project and assessing the treatment of comedy in these plays, It appears that the ‘happier’ or at least more free parts of the story of Jewish history are not known, to keep the respect of the victims of the Holocaust as a priority. While this is of course important, I fear that this way of looking at historic events allows people to think of the community as something other than humans, with talent, careers, families, language, laughter, humour and a voice.

The research into the play-writes and musicians, felt like getting to know them personally which completely broke down the way I thought. For example, at the start of the project I explained what I was doing to friends with phrases such as ‘group of Jews in ghettos managed to perform comedy you know!’, later it became ‘Gideon Klein and Zdeněk Jelínek were musicians and play-writes, they wrote agitprop together to mock the Nazis without them knowing — can you imagine how the laughter got them through tougher days? What incredible people.’

I would urge any modern person who believes the arts serve no purpose in society to delve a little deeper and attempt to understand that bank notes and misery did not get people through persecution.

What impact (if any) has the project had on you?  Please feel free to talk about changes to your professional practice, your knowledge and wider opinions/beliefs, as appropriate.

The largest impact on me is by far my outlook on modern politics. I was just eighteen when I started with project almost three years ago now, and I was just becoming interested in where my vote would be cast. I was brought up in a conservative part of the South Coast and took what I heard from family and older siblings as gospel, but never once delved into our own system or what policy meant for the individual. When I was researching for the first play, it was so clear that the commitment to Marxism was truly the only thing that kept so many people going throughout life in the ghetto, and this complete belief that this system was going to save them was dedication I had never considered in the context of my own country. One day it clicked in my head that thing don’t have to be the way they currently are; we vote, we choose. I am not saying that there will ever be a Marxist revolution in England any time soon but opening my eyes to an alternative way of thinking in the context of other countries, certainly made our current system seem ludicrous and pathetic. Although it seems like I fit a common stereotype of a left wing artist, there is strong grounding in why this happens. Art exposes the deepest wounds in the most honest of ways; these are wounds that people will never know about on mass because suffering is easy to ignore when it isn’t at your doorstep. However I will never un-see, unread or un-speak to those worst hit by political injustice which is governed by systems with the aim of keeping money and possession at the forefront of its practice. This will never be my outlook.

Re-entering the workplace with this new mind-set of social justice rather than being a cog in a money-making-machine for someone else, has also relinquished me of any fears I had to speak up when something wrong was happening. Years prior to the project, I almost felt it my duty to work all the hours under the sun at a very young age to be wanted and valued by employers, when really my priorities should have been with my own education and aspirations which did not fit the system into which I was born. Thanks to PtJA I am hot on the heels of social injustice and will not be passing the battle on any time soon!

Learning about politics out of the context of your own country allows you step back and assess what you see when you return to it. I cannot honestly say it is easy to hold the beliefs I have in a part of the world where left-wing politics is unheard of, but I will never stop having the same conversation with people I encounter. My confidence in the subject has grown and I am more steadfast in my beliefs than I had ever imagined possible. Inevitably it does not matter if you differ in extremes from the way your parents think and vote, if anything it is telling of a new generation of voters who may have finally learned from the past.

What’s next for you and will we see you again in any future PtJA productions?

I am going into my final year at university and hope to graduate next summer! I am sure there will be more Performing the Jewish Archives opportunities brought through the doors of Theatre, Film and Television at the University of York, and you will have tough job to keep me away from them.

 

By Libby Clark

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‘Strains of Revolution’: a day of events at the British Library, London

By Libby Clark

On 27 June the PtJA team made their way down to the British Library in London for a day of events entitled ‘Russian Revolution: Unearthing a Jewish History’.  Linking directly with the ‘Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths’ exhibition currently in situ at the British Library and curated in collaboration with colleagues at the British Library and the Royal Northern College of Music, a suite of events took place throughout the day exploring the impact of the Russian Revolution upon Jews in the Russian Empire.             

The afternoon kicked off with a keynote address by Professor Michael Berkowitz on Jews and the Revolution entitled Anarchism, Jews — and photography?  Opposition and alternatives to Bolshevism.  Speaking to a capacity crowd Michael delivered a rousing and informative talk.  He was then joined by PtJA team members Stephen Muir, Simo Muir and Lisa Peschel, for a lively Q&A session. Audience members were particularly fascinated with the archival work undertaken by the team in Helsinki, Prague and Cape Town and its sometimes surprising links with Russian Jews and the revolution. The role of Jewish photographers in chronicling these events, and sometimes stimulating further creative activity, was also a topic of interest.

The second part of the day, titled ‘Strains of Revolution – Part 1’, saw members of the Clothworkers Consort of Leeds www.ccl.leeds.ac.uk performing a programme entitled ‘Songs of brotherhood and strife’ in the British Library Entrance Hall.  The programme drew upon the rich heritage of Jewish folk and choral music, drawing attention to the struggles, tragedies, internal conflicts, and deep comradeship experienced by Jews in the Russian Empire, before, during, and long after the Revolution itself.  As a member of CCL, I was lucky enough to be amongst those signing, along with Stephen Muir.  The Entrance Hall was certainly a wonderful space to sing in.  One things that struck me, was that by performing this repertoire in a public space that remained open for business as usual, we were reaching a far greater and more varied audience than we might otherwise have done in a traditional concert hall.  Whilst we had a core audience of around 70 who sat and listened to the performance in its entirety, I would estimate that at least 100 other people heard the performance in part.  Whilst singing, I saw people stop and listen to one or two pieces before moving on, members of the public filming us on their phones whilst going up and down the escalators and library staff appearing on the upper balconies to see what all the noise was about!  Having British Library staff on hand throughout our performance to hand out programmes and explain what we were doing to interested members of the public was also tremendously helpful.

The final section of the day, ‘Strains of Revolution – Part 2’, saw a series of new compositions written and performed by students from the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM) within the British Library’s main PACCAR exhibition gallery.  These works were created specifically for the exhibition and its space and gave voice to the Jewish stories that form part of the Revolution story.  Small ensembles were positioned amongst the exhibits and as members of the public wandered around the exhibition they were treated to a rolling programme of mini performances throughout the evening.  I certainly found these performances extremely effective and felt they really added an extra dimension to the exhibits on display.        

Alongside all these events, the PtJA exhibition http://ptja.leeds.ac.uk/research/ptja-project-exhibition/ was on display in the Entrance Hall throughout the day and received some excellent exposure as a result.  Following our summer festivals in Sydney and Cape Town, I would love to see the exhibition displayed somewhere for a period of weeks or months so that it can be viewed and enjoyed by as many people as possible.   Please do get in touch with me (e.a.clark@leeds.ac.uk) if you know of anywhere that might be interested in housing the exhibition for a limited period of time.           

It goes without saying that an event like this couldn’t happen without strong partnership working, and in this we were incredibly fortunate to work with excellent teams at the British Library and the RNCM.  Planning began back in December 2016 and all those involved have been working toward delivering the final result ever since.  The British Library, to the knowledge of their staff involved in this event, have never staged a performance within the exhibition gallery, so this element of the day alone came with certain challenges and was a learning curve for us all.  As the day drew to a close we were all delighted with how things had gone and excited about the potential for events of this kind in the future.  A successful venture all round.      

 

To see video recordings of these events click here 

 

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Music behind the ghetto walls

Professor Teryl Dobbs, University of Wisconsin-Madison, presented several papers over the past months and in addition, has committed to upcoming engagements for the coming academic year. She presented two papers at the University Mozarteum, Salzburg, Austria April 18 – 22, 2017, for the 25th European Association for Music in Schools/International Society for Music Education European Regional Conference 2017, Joint (ad)Venture Music: Networking as a Challenge for Music Teachers: (1) Performing the Jewish Archive and its Potential for Joint (ad)Ventures in Music Education, and with Viennese soprano, Elizabeth Hagedorn (2) Cultural Relevance and the Singing Voice: An (ad)Venture in Re/Imagining Music Learning and Teaching.

Elizabeth Hagedorn

Grounded in culturally relevant pedagogy and critical social reconstructionist perspectives, Professor Dobbs’ first paper proposed multiple benefits that the Performing the Jewish Archive Large Grant holds for music education and particularly for youth who identify with underrepresented, suppressed minorities. In the second presentation, acclaimed operatic soprano and Performing the Jewish Archive artist, Elizabeth Hagedorn, joined Professor Dobbs to share how specific curricular revisions to an existing undergraduate music education curriculum allowed students to develop deeper understandings of multiple musics outside the normative university canon.

On May 18, 2017, Professor Dobbs presented an invited paper/lecture at Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, to the Bienen School of Music’s Center for the Study of Education and the Musical Experience (CSEME). Dobbs’ paper, Music Education and the Holocaust: So What? expanded upon her PtJA research and findings that she presented earlier in February at Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan.

Professor Dobbs’ upcoming engagements for the coming academic year include a guest artist/scholar residency at Wartburg College, Waverly, Iowa where she will guest conduct the Concert Band and lecture about her PtJA research projects. In November, Professor Dobbs will present her PtJA-related paper at the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies Annual Conference in Chicago, Illinois. The paper, Josima Feldschuh: Music Behind the Ghetto Walls, is part a panel that Professor Dobbs convened, Uncommon Responses to the Holocaust. Members of the panel include Professor Rachel Feldhay Brenner, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Professor Aurimas Svedas, Vilnius University, Lithuania; Dr. Jennifer Ryan Tishler, Chair, University of Wisconsin-Madison; and Professor Eliyana R. Adler, Discussant, Pennsylvania State University.

Jessica Kasinsky’s graduation

Other News Related to PtJA/Madison
Jessica Kasinsky, soprano and performing artist in the PtJA May 2016, “Out of the Shadows” festival in Madison, Wisconsin graduated this past May from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Doctor of Musical Arts. As part of the fulfillment for the DMA, Dr. Kasinsky undertook her research project on the life and music of Aleksander Kulisiewicz, a prisoner in Sachsenhausen during World War Two. Much of her research took place in the archives located at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and in consultation with PtJA project partner, Dr. Bret Werb. Dr. Kasinsky noted in her proposal the profound effect of her involvement with Performing the Jewish Archive upon her research agenda. Professor Dobbs served on Dr. Kasinski’s doctoral committee as her project supervisor.

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‘Getting to know you’ Libby Clark

Tell us about your role in PtJA
I am the Project Manager for PtJA.  I’m responsible for overall planning and oversight of the project and its day-to-day management.  I work closely with the research team to manage the logistical coordination of the project, including a suite of five international performance festivals, project conferences and symposia, one off performances, events and educational projects.  I’m also responsible for coordinating a programme of project evaluation, managing the liaison with external partners and supervising the Festival Coordinators.

What were you doing before working on PtJA?
Working as a Project Officer in the Lifelong Learning Centre at the University of Leeds.  I was part of the ‘Communities and Partnerships team’ and I organised and ran study days, summer schools, seminars and conferences for adult learners from areas underrepresented in higher education.  It was a great job and I gained a lot of experience that enabled me to make the move to my current role.   

What’s the best thing about working on a project like PtJA?
It’s been a wonderful opportunity for me to combine business and pleasure.  I’m a project manager by trade and a keen amateur musician outside of work, so when I saw a job asking for a PM with knowledge and experience of music and theatre I couldn’t wait to apply.  The fact that I have also been able to contribute to choral performances at project events and festivals has been an added bonus.  I’m very aware of how lucky I have been to work on a project like this and I’ll be sad when funding for the project in its current form comes to an end.     

What do you get the most satisfaction from professionally?
Seeing an event, especially a large scale festival or international conference, come together successfully.  Anyone in event management knows just how much work is involved – it should look flawless but there is usually a fair amount of frantic paddling going on just under the surface!  Receiving positive feedback from your audience and seeing what you can do to improve next time is very satisfying.       

What’s the biggest challenge for you on this project?
The sheer size and scope of the project – 5 international festivals, conferences, academic outputs, a project exhibition, multiple one-off performances and public engagement events and an international team located at all four corners of the earth.  It’s huge and as word about the project has spread so have the opportunities for collaboration.  With the best will in the world we can’t do it all and an important (and sometimes challenging!) part of my role is to remind team members to consider what is possible given the project scope, limited time and limited resources.  Basically, I have to be bad cop!     

Outside of work, what are your interests and hobbies?
I’m a passionate mountain climber/walker, runner, climber and general all round outdoor and fitness enthusiast. In particular, I love endurance sport – the challenges of long distance running, multiday expeditions and high altitude climbing are considerable but utterly addictive.   

I am also a keen amateur musician and I currently sing soprano with the Clothworkers Consort of Leeds, a chamber choir based at the University of Leeds.  Through them I have had the opportunity to perform a vast amount of repertoire in some amazing venues both in the UK and overseas.         

Finally, I have two young daughters (a 3 year old and a 16 month old) who keep me on my toes and make my non-PtJA days entertaining.  I am busy indoctrinating them into the joys of music and the great outdoors. 

Outside of work, what are the top things on your ‘bucket list’?
Finish climbing the 7 summits (the highest peak on each continent).  I’ve done 2 (Kilimanjaro and Mount Elbrus) but sense the others might need to wait until my children are a little older!  Complete all 214 of the Lake District Wainwrights (165 done so far) and Munros, run more marathons, complete an ultra-marathon, live in the Lake District, travel the Trans-Siberian railway, round the world trip with my girls….the list is endless and I’m always adding things to it!  

If you were stranded on a desert island what three things would you want with you?
Whilst I should probably say my husband and two daughters, I’m a practically minded person so I’ll go for my 4 season sleeping bag, full set of waterproofs and steel fire lighting flint.  No matter how stunning your surroundings, being cold and wet is no fun after a while.

 

 

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Children, Conflict and the Art(s) of Hope

By Lisa Peschel 

In a pilot project intended to serve as a model for further cooperation, Performing the Jewish Archive’s theatre researcher, Lisa Peschel, collaborated with Simon Benson, drama tutor at York’s Bootham School, and Heather Boyce, head of education development at the Anne Frank Trust, to develop Children, Conflict and the Art(s) of Hope. This event, which included a performance by Bootham School pupils based on works created by children in the Terezín/Theresienstadt ghetto and the Trust’s exhibition on Anne Frank’s life, was featured in York’s Festival of Ideas on 24 and 25 June and presented at Bootham School’s Parents’ Day on 1 July.

Simon, who took the lead on developing the performance, prepared his pupils for the project by inviting Lisa and Heather to speak with them about the experience of young European Jews during World War II.   Heather trained other pupils as peer guides for the exhibition, which was installed in the school for a week before the performance.   Simon then interspersed scenes from the script, which was written by 14-year old prisoner Hanuš Hachenburg and published in Peschel’s anthology Performing Captivity, Performing Escape:  Cabarets and Plays from the Terezín/Theresienstadt Ghetto, with songs and poems by other children and a video montage based on their artworks. As Simon wrote in the programme,

The play is a curious mixture of dark fairy tale, satire and comedy. The brevity of its scenes and its episodic structure make for a fast-moving play that is often difficult to keep up with and make sense of. But it is precisely this craziness that I love about it! Working with our students at Bootham on the play, we have enjoyed so much the energy and childlike playfulness that lies at its heart. Directing and performing Looking for a Spectre has confronted us with the obvious realisation that it was written by a child and to be enjoyed by an audience of children. How could any play so written not be full of energy, fun, light and darkness?

Spectators were struck by the history of the ghetto and the young prisoners’ ways of coping with their internment.   As one audience member wrote, ‘I was previously unaware of the story of the Terezin Ghetto and certainly hadn’t previously thought of humour as a way of dealing with this kind of thing’.   

PtJA co-investigator Lisa Peschel hopes that other schools will follow Bootham School’s lead.  ‘The Anne Frank Trust has developed a very effective method of installing their exhibition and training peer guides to educate their fellow pupils.  We offer the schools an additional activity – theatrical performance – that will engage even more pupils and further the Trust’s goal:   to empower young people with the knowledge, skills and confidence to challenge all forms of prejudice and discrimination.   

 

Click here to see a video recording of the event. 

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